The year 2023 has been declared the Year of Sustainability, and it is encouraging to witness the UAE taking the lead in addressing climate change and sustainability.
Having said that, achieving sustainability goals requires collaboration on a global scale, bringing together stakeholders from various sectors and empowering young innovators.
In an exclusive interview with Construction Week Middle East, Yousif Ahmed Al-Mutawa, CEO of Sharjah Sustainable City talks about promoting circular systems in residential developments for a sustainable future.
2023 will be the year of sustainability. What role do you think global collaboration for innovation will play in achieving sustainability goals?
It is great to see the UAE leading the conversation on climate change and sustainability. I welcome the announcement declaring 2023 as the Year of Sustainability, which will further boost global efforts toward sustainability throughout the year and beyond.
As we face mammoth challenges, ranging from climate change to biodiversity loss, shrinking natural resources and more, we must step up efforts toward finding innovative solutions to help us better deal with such issues. I think cooperation on a global level is key to making this process more effective. That’s why we need to join forces with all stakeholders, including young innovators – both locally as well as globally.
We must also create platforms to exchange ideas and fill knowledge gaps with regards to realising our sustainability goals, and the UAE has already been setting good examples in terms of giving opportunities to everyone to contribute and help boost innovations, especially in sustainability.
Thanks to its visionary leadership, the country has created a number of such platforms, including the Zayed Sustainability Prize, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, Mohammed bin Rashid Innovation Fund Innovation Accelerator program, UAE FoodTech Challenge, and the Access Sharjah Challenge (ASC), which offers entrepreneurs a unique opportunity to implement their innovative sustainability solutions in Sharjah.
The ASC 2023 was recently launched by Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa). In line with UAE’s Year of Sustainability and leading up to COP28, this year’s challenge has its focus on sustainability as the core pillar with the aim of helping startups scale heights by connecting to corporate and government partners and providing more market accessibility.
How can the real estate sector set an example for sustainable living in the region?
I think not just real estate, but all sectors need to embrace sustainable practices, especially in our region, the Middle East and North Africa, which is the world’s most water-scarce region. It has witnessed increased environmental stresses, including freshwater and arable land, primarily due to development patterns. If you look at the Near East and North Africa region, the amount of available freshwater has reduced by 60% in the last 40 years.
Looking at the real estate sector globally, commercial and residential buildings are responsible for over one-third of energy use and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions globally. In particular, buildings are responsible for about 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions. It includes 28% from operational emissions, from the energy needed to heat, cool, and power them, and 11% from materials and construction.
We need to understand that along with food and clothing, having shelter is one of the most immediate basic human needs in the world. As the population grows – it is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 – this demand will increase at an exponential rate, thus contributing more to GHG emissions and the depletion of natural resources. Therefore, more robust efforts are needed from all sectors, including real estate, in the face of these challenges.
The real estate sector must adopt sustainable approaches when it comes to, for example, selecting building materials, lighting equipment, water resources management, and landscaping. Thanks to the innovative technologies available now, including IoT, we have a number of solutions available that help cut energy and resource usage.
Moreover, countries like KSA and UAE in our region are already setting examples in sustainable living through initiatives like Saudi Green Initiative and UAE’s National Net Zero by 2050 Pathway.
In the UAE, the country has also created an enabling environment for constructing eco-friendly commercial and residential buildings. It also offers sustainable housing solutions like Sharjah Sustainable City to reduce carbon emissions by using renewable energy sources, promoting green mobility, repurposing waste and using sustainable construction materials. I think there are many sustainability initiatives our country offers, and to realize a sustainable future, such initiatives need to be scaled up more widely and replicated in other parts of the region and beyond.
In preparation for the COP28 in Dubai, what are some immediate changes that can be done in the energy and construction sector to offset wastage in residential developments?
There’s a lot we can do. As an immediate measure, we need to focus more on promoting more circular systems and tapping the potential of waste in residential developments, which often contribute to high energy consumption and waste production. For example, in Sharjah Sustainable City, 100% of the wastewater is treated for landscape irrigation and recycling is maximised to divert waste from landfills.
Besides utilising renewable energy sources, our city will be equipped with a biogas plant to treat organic waste (food waste, green waste, and sludge) that will convert waste problems into a resource (electricity and/or thermal energy). Moreover, the residues from the biogas plant can be used as fertilizer for landscaping. What’s more, in collaboration with Dulsco, sorting bins have been installed in villas and sorting stations in the alleyway to encourage waste separation that helps avoid landfilling and associated pollution.
The construction sector also needs to take other measures, such as optimizing and promoting green transportation, using environmentally friendly packaging and construction materials, and collaborating with suppliers that promote sustainability.
Generating more awareness about sustainability and engaging communities through different environment-related capacity development initiatives will also play a key role.
How is SSC, as a community, planning to contribute to the year of sustainability?
At Sharjah Sustainable City, every day is a sustainable day, and we have been at the vanguard of supporting ongoing efforts toward sustainability and aspiring to achieve Net Zero Energy. This year will surely boost our commitment to leading a global movement toward sustainable living and promoting a lifestyle compatible with the future.
In line with these efforts, we have planned a series of activities this year. It includes a sustainable community engagement program, which was recently launched with the ‘Discover Your Urban Farm’ initiative. It’s the first initiative in an ongoing educational campaign that will take place on an ongoing basis, hosting enjoyable activities and offering holistic guidance on the most sustainable urban farming and landscaping practices. We will also be observing and celebrating other events, such as Nest Box Week aligned with UAE’s. With special focus on our young residents, the event is aimed at building awareness about bird habitats, nesting habits, and the benefits of providing bird boxes.
We will also be supporting ASC 2023 to boost sustainopreneurship. In collaboration with Sheraa, Sharjah Sustainable City created a challenge statement for ASC 2023. The challenge focuses on enabling cities to achieve Net Zero by implementing innovative solutions that address the environmental impacts of urban living, empowering residents to reduce their carbon footprint through sustainable consumption and behavioural change.
These are just a few programs we have planned, and there will be more, especially around COP28.